Want to plant trees in container help

JunglajungleMarch 26, 2011

Hi! I live in Phoenix Arizona and want to grow some citrus trees in containers, I want to plant Ruby Red Semi Dwarf, Navel Orange Semi Dwarf, Bearss Lime Semi Dwarf and a Lisbon Lemon Semi Dwarf all these trees are grafted (if this helps) and are in 5 gallon containers please give me any advise if this trees will do good in containers or not. I want to plant them in plastic containers not sure if it is a good idea since it gets really hot in AZ I do have a big grass area with irrigation and was thinking on placing the trees around the grass edge to help with the heat during the summer. Thanks all for your replies.

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Yes you'll be able to do just fine due to the amount of daylight in your area. However, you just have to watch the heat and --- daylight in your area ;-) Assuming the trees are fresh at the nursery and aren't old stock (they haven't sat there for more than a season) you can keep the trees in their 5gal containers for this growing season and pot-up and upsize the container to 7gal ones in Fall.

Around the grass CAN help with humidity and reduce heat, as long as they avoid excessive daily sprinkler watering during cool weather - esp against their trunks. It's usually not an issue in our type of heat during Spring/Summer, as any sprinkler watering will be dry within minutes.

You're biggest risks are: 1) container soil getting above 95F, 2) direct afternoon sun will shut down photosynthesis and then burn the leaves. The combination of 1 and 2 will destroy your tree within two weeks.

If there are spots with partial shade, especially late afternoon shade, that will be ideal for citrus in containers. If no shade, you might need to use some shade cloth until the tree gets a larger canopy, therefore larger outer leaves will protect the majority of inner canopy leaves. Even though you still get sunburn on the outer ones, it's not that bad aesthetically and the tree is still healthy.

It is a common misunderstanding that Citrus need "full sunlight", which many interpret as "all day long". The brightness of sunlight in our areas gets reflected off so many surfaces, we can literally plant trees on the North side of homes, mostly in the shade, where every guide says that won't work. Full morning sunlight until noon is enough for our climate. More is better, but the afternoon sun needs to be filtered.

Even using white plastic pots get my container soil temps above 115F in hot weather in direct afternoon sun, but you can check that out yourself. I use the pot-in-pot method, where I place the ugly plastic pot inside a larger (nicer) one. Leave at least 2" space between the two walls. It's even better putting mulch between them as it helps protect the soils from freezing temps in winter (if you keep the bark dry).

Alternatively, just bury the trees, still in the plastic pots, around the edge of your grass. It's simpler and can be more pleasing in the landscape. Then pull it out in Fall to up-size the containers. Don't leave them there more than a season or two without up-sizing your container, as you risk bad circling roots.

Those are the two gotchas for your climate.

The usual "citrus in container advice" is appropriate, also. Here it is: Use fast draining soil mix, water but don't over-water, use correct fertilizer with micro-nutrients, add a tiny bit of vinegar to your water when you apply fertilizer (to get pH around 6.5), you may need to supplement with Epsom Salts, watch for pests. And NEVER buy or transport citrus outside your area/state.

If you use bagged soils, don't try using them for more than a year before replacement. Even better to use the Al's mix recipes in the container forum or try using Millet's Citrus CHC mix (Google that).

Good luck, post some pics when you get your trees!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 10:10PM
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andrewofthelemon(7b Central Arkansas)

i really suggest either of Al's famous mixes.
You could go to the COntainer forum, see them lauded, someone wants to put him on a dvd even or something. I dont really suggest the CHC mix, but thats an individual thing

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 10:53PM
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Hi Chris, thank you so much for taking your time to write a great response with lots of useful information. I will follow your steps one by one. I do have an area in the backyard that has great sunlight until 12:00pm then it is all shade. I will place them there and see how they do. The trees I saw are very young, not even one season old, they are in 3.25 gal containers. I don�t work so I will be able to monitor the trees and make changes as needed.

One more question, when do I stop Up-sizing the containers?

Thanks and yes I will post pics.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 11:11PM
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I read almost every single posting in the container and citrus forums so I have lots of info. I did not see any posting on growing citrus trees in containers in Arizona
Thank you all for sharing your knowledge

    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 11:24PM
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I will go back to the container forum and read on Al's mixes and will use it. Thanks again for replying.


    Bookmark   March 26, 2011 at 11:31PM
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Since you are obviously a reader, I'll give you some more wordy info (that I doubt anyone else will read).

The ingredients for Al's Gritty Mix can be a bit of work to find for some people. Others, can get it rather quickly.

Which to use: 1) the gritty, 2) the 5-1-1 or 3) Millet's CHC mix depends on your preferences, objectives, $$, and how much effort you are willing to expend up-front vs. down-the-road. The gritty mix can be watered and watered and watered -- without much issue for killing the tree. In your area, during summer, you'd probably need to water every other day for the gritty mix. Even when it was 110F here in Fresno, I never had to water "several times per day" which the opponents of the mix will try to warn you. In fact, I think every 1.5 days were working for me; basically, not even every day.

The CHC mix can be watered quite a bit as well without concern. But probably wont' need to be watered more than every other day or third.

How often one needs to water a container citrus depends on the mix you choose, but equally depends on the size of soil (medium/container) balanced by with the root and canopy sizes. If you put a small tree in a large pot, you don't need to water as often and vice versa.

Don't use a bagged mix off-the-shelf unless you add at least 50% small sized (thumbnail) bark chips. Then add a little Perlite to it, also. Doing this is at the door-step to finishing the 5-1-1 mix, so you could just follow those directions. The 5-1-1 mix for Citrus is basically 5 parts dust-screened small bark, 1 part Acid-lovers bagged mix (or plain peat) and 1 part dust-screened Perlite. Then add calcium (either a small amount of Dolomite (lime) or a larger amount of gypsum) -- which to use you should probably ask Al. He'll probably say the Dolomite.

The gritty and CHC last a very long time without replacement (like 5 years? not sure). The 511 is 2 years, I believe.

All 3 have their pros-cons and can work in our climates. I personally have the majority of mine in the Gritty, a few in the other two, and a few in bagged mixes. I have the most trouble with bagged mixes, but they were the cheapest and least work -- up front, that is. They need to be replaced more often. Bagged mixes are far from ideal for container citrus. However, once you figure out how to compensate for them (some people never do), it is fine.... not ideal, but fine. Attempting "ideal" is worth it to many folks and their trees, thus the proliferation of Gritty mix users in the Container forum and the praise for Al/Tapla.

When do you stop up-sizing containers? In general, the answer is: when your tree reaches the maximum size you'd like and is healthy; stick with that final container size.
This assumes continuous upgrades of container size (like 4" every pot-up). Example, starting at a 12" width, next container is 16", then 20", and 24" (probably your final one 5+ years from now). If you use the 5-1-1 or the CHC mix you should follow this procedure.

However if you choose gritty mix, you could buy the 24" container, or half wine-barrel or plastic rope-handle tub (15-19gal), and fill it up and put a small tree in there and never have to up-size again. That would be the final container used until the tree is fully mature. Someday, you will need to replace the gritty mix itself as the bark component will have decomposed completely. But the gritty mix is expensive to fill such a huge container when you only need like 1/4th that amount for the first couple years. I have done it though, putting a young tree in the plastic 19gallon rope-handle tubs. It functions extremely well, except in landscape appeal. With a strong prompting from my wife, I ended up putting the tree in the ugly blue $5 plastic tub inside a nice wooden container (to keep the roots cool anyway).

The reason I love the last approach is b/c when I bare-root the Citrus for the gritty mix, it sets the tree back several months, sometimes an entire growing season. The ones I've put in the largest tubs don't need to be disturbed for a long time and only by the 2nd season are leaving the others way behind.

Good luck,

1 Like    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 2:30AM
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Anthony Nguyen

Wow, great summary Chris! I had been contemplating which mix I wanted to do for my Mexican lime and Meyer and you just summed them all up in this nice forum. Thanks!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 3:07AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Well said, Chris, thanks for composing that "wordy" info ;-)

Indeed, I'm a Gritty and a 5-1-1 user, and both mixes are exceptional.

Regarding the use of Dolomitic Lime versus Gypsum.
Add Lime to the 5-1-1 bark mix, in order to slightly raise the pH and to provide Calcium.
Add vinegar to your water to combat the gradual alkaline creep of most tap-waters.

Add Gypsum to the Gritty Mix, in order to provide Calcium *without* raising the pH.
When fertilizing, add Epsom Salts to your water to balance the Calcium and Magnesium favorably.

Now, if that sounds too complicated, buy yourself a fertilizer than contains Calcium,
along with all the other micro-nutrients. Al has said that if your fertilizer includes Calcium,
you don't need to add Gypsum to the Gritty Mix or mess with the Epsom Salts thereafter.

I use and recommend Dyna Grow Foliage Pro 9-3-6, which contains all the micros.


    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 1:41PM
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Thank you Chris, this is exactly the type of information I was looking for. I will start my search on the gritty mix; if I cant do all the trees at once I will do one or two and then the others the next season. I purchased the trees today they look so good, Im going to keep them in their current container until the foal. I will post pictures once I figure out how to. Do you have any pictures of your trees? I did not find them on the forum.
Thanks again and take care

    Bookmark   March 27, 2011 at 11:01PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

We've been talking about an excellent medium in another thread in this forum. The company who manufactures it is Fafard; they make a large selection of ready-to-use mixes for the retail trade as well as a terrific line for professional growers. I am recommending a couple of their professional mixes for all woody container plants. It is entirely different from their products for the retail trade.

These are coarse textured, very fast draining, long lasting mediums. No mixing, measuring ingredients, screening, etc. required to achieve great results. A good option, if you are not ready or prepared to go with the 'gritty' mixes. (Which are great, by the way.)

I'll attach a link so that you can click on the the Fafard products I am referring to. Most likely, you will have to have your locally owned garden center special order it for you, unless they are already using it themselves.

Click on the attached link to view #3 and the Nursery Mix. They are both listed in what Fafard calls 'Heavy Weight' mixes, and they both have conifer bark as their primary ingredient.

Just mentioning this as one more terrific option for you.

Here is a link that might be useful: Click here!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 12:47PM
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I'm glad the trees look well. About keeping them in the current container, I'm a little nervous since your trees are mail order... Exactly how large are the containers and what is the soil?

If a 3.4gallon container (about 11" across or so in a cylinder) and in decent soil, then it's a great idea to keep them in the current mix while you get used to the watering requirements, root temp protection, fert, and pests.

Yeah, it's about time I post some pictures. I literally have thousands of them, since I have 50 citrus and always take pictures at every season change and every time I mess with the soil.

But recently I started trying other fruit trees in containers, like apples, pears, cherry, etc.

Good luck, you can email me directly if I'm not around and you have questions for me. But plenty of other folks here now what's up, too!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 12:52PM
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Well I didn't compare the three mixes very well, but I'm glad it was helpful to you. The CHC mix has worked very well for me, but you won't find much support for it from folks in this forum. It is the easiest of the three to compile, since there is no sifting and the main ingredient is purchases via a phone call. But for CHC support you'd want to go to the other forum.

I didn't even see Rhizo's post, but yeah that is another good option (so I've heard from a few people I respect).

Shirly: You can email me via this site (it should show my email address when you get to that page) or email me directly to attach the photos.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 1:04PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

cebury has given you excellent advice. I would add to this that you really do not want to keep your citrus in the black plastic containers. In AZ, your will cook them! They really need to be in light-colored plastic containers, or ceramic pots, and yes, it would really help if you could post some photos of your citrus, so we can see how big the trees have gotten in comparison to the size of the pots they're in. Often, citrus coming out of the nursery this time of year are just about ready to go into the next sized pot. You can post photos very easily on this forum. Just upload your photos to Photobucket. If you float your mouse over the HTML code (once you're done uploading and have saved to your folder), then left click once on that html code and it gets copied right to your Windows clipboard. Then, in a message to the forum, just right click and select "Paste" to paste the html coding into your message. That simple. And, I agree with cebury, for your area, "full sun" may be too much sun. If you can give your container citrus afternoon shade, they'll love you for it. You're going to have to water them pretty frequently during the summer. Get yourself a moisture meter with a long wand. If you're below 50%, it's time to water. And, you'll probably need to fertilize more often, too, due to the heat and amount of watering.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2011 at 2:22PM
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Patty! After reading through this whole thread, that is exactly what I was thinking! Great point about black plastic containers. Hoping your weather is better for you lately as well as Josh's

Cedbury: Great work and whether you realize it or not, you are helping others to understand the science and concepts of PWT's in containers and how they affect our plants and to share it in your way has been nice.
Thanks for taking the time to help as so.
Pictures are also a plus.:-)

Shirly: The people/friends here will help you to be well armed against failing containerized trees in your climate and I would love to see pictures of them someday.

Hi Rhizo! Thanks for your info too!

Josh: Good points made about the gypsum and lime and how they work with each mix. Also about fertilizer. Well put. Thanks.


    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 8:48AM
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Shirly, yes as they've said please do not keep them in the black containers -- unless you're doing as I suggested and going to bury the containers around the edge of your lawn.

That will provide excellent protection of roots for both winter and summer and also help with the moisture retention a bit. Just be sure to remove them by next Spring (or Fall as you've said) and repot then into whatever mix you choose.

Did you ever get a hold of Jo Jo? The others that have chimed in inside this thread will also give you excellent advice as you need it.

Good luck to ya,

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 6:39PM
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